I'm always on the lookout for a decent new burger or sandwich for lunch, so on Thursday, I found myself at Onieals, just a couple blocks away from my office. Walking in, first impression was dark wood, low music, and completely empty. I mean, there were three people sitting at the bar during lunch hour at a restaurant that comfortably seats closer to 70 people.
Things like this confuse me a bit. I mean, for its Little Italy location, it's a fancy looking place. Nice furniture, good sound system, no nicks on the bars, no chipped paint, a classy-looking joint if I ever saw one. How does a place like this survive in the city with no business? Who's keeping up that facade, washing the windows, reupholstering the chairs, and all that?
Certainly the food we got was a good indication to why the place had no customers. The burger wasn't bad, per se, but for $14, you expect something pretty darn good, especially with stiff cheap-but-good lunch food competition around.
About ten minutes into our lunch, the answer came in the form of a veritable wave of people pouring through the front door. Fifty, to be exact, mostly women, mostly blonde, mostly speaking with foreign accents, each one lining up to the bar and walking away with a pink drink in a martini glass.
What the hell?
When a couple sat down next to us, I asked what they were doing there. She responded in a friendly Irish accent, "Sex and the City Tour." Ah. That explains the pink cosmos. Turns out that Onieals plays "Scout" in Sex and the City, the bar owned by Carrie's former beau Aiden and Miranda's husband Steve. (Don't ask me how I know this. I swear, I haven't watched every episode).
Curious, I asked the waitress how often this happens. "Two to five times a day, every day of the week," was her answer. "And they pay $9 for their cosmos," she quickly added.
Holy cow! Just think about that. 50 people each playing $9 plus tip two to five times a day, seven days a week. That's anywhere between $7,000 and $17,500 a week, and all the restaurant has to do is mix up a pitcher of cosmos.
And just as soon as the busload stepped in, they vanished, leaving behind nothing but half empty Cosmos and a faint aroma of leftover Magnolia cupcakes tinged with a hint of Buddakan kitchen. I managed to sneak a sip of a half finished drink before the waitress cleared it away (in the name of good reporting) and can tell you that these drinks are nothing more than well vodka, Rose's lime juice, and a splash of cranberry, served just under lukewarm. Zero effort, plenty of return.
According to the Sex and the City tour website, other stops include Charlotte's gym, the Pleasure Chest (where Samantha bought her rabbit), and a number of Greenwich Village boutiques (where you'll get to indulge in "retail therapy" like Carrie & Co.), amongst nearly 40 other stops.
So is it just me, or does it seem crazy that Sex and the City mania is still around, despite what the second film did to its good name? How many other locations in New York are staying afloat (or at least lining their pockets) with similar Carrie-induced mania?
What sort of tour would you, Serious Eaters, be willing to shell out for?
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.